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I base my self-worth on the following things: how many promo codes I have for Uber and/or Postmates, the amount of clean clothes I have the option of wearing when I wake up in the morning, whether or not my iPhone screen is shattered, and how many Instagram likes I’m raking in over the last three calendar months. No one uses Facebook to post photos unless they’re 1.) recently married or 2.) over the age of 35. Twitter is for high schoolers to subtweet their boyfriends and post Vines, and I’m still too afraid to have fun on Snapchat for fear I’ll accidentally send an ugly double-chin selfie to all of my friends.
But Instagram – that’s where the cool kids hang out. And because no one just posts a photo and goes about their day, there’s a process that one goes through after taking a not-so-shitty iPhone photo that makes you think, “You know what? I’m going to Instagram this with a third-party filter on it to show people that I ‘get’ it.”
‘The First Like Is The Hardest’
With your phone on the ‘Activity’ feed, your thumb feverishly pulls the screen down revealing the spinning loading wheel just hoping you see a red notification heart appearing at the bottom of the screen thus revealing that someone has officially liked your photo. Because being the first person to like someone’s photo reeks of desperation for approval and creepiness, that person instantly becomes the most valuable player in your life. The seconds after posting your photo feel like hours, and if you’re sixty seconds in with no activity to show for your post, you officially reach the “everyone hates me and I need to delete my life” stage.
Even though the first like normally comes in the form of someone liking your photo not realizing that they’re the actually the first person, taking that like would be a heartless move on their part and you’re eternally in debt to them.
The Race To Eleven
With the stress of getting your likes off the ground lifted off your shoulders, there’s now a new milestone that you need to reach: the eleventh like. Instagram has since updated their interface to display your likes differently, but eleven is still the magic number that says, “Okay, this isn’t a total fucking disaster.” One by one, you see your best friends or people who have notifications on for you double-tap your newborn photograph. There are two stages of reckoning that you go through in the (hopefully) short period of time between the first and eleventh likes: you consider liking your photo yourself (which becomes incredibly tempting when you’re standing on the cliff that is ten likes) and you consider creating new burner accounts just to elevate the likes that you’d otherwise be leaving on the table.
At this stage, if your account is set to private, you consider throwing your privacy overboard and hoping phantom followers see you in their discover feed. And if your account is public, this is where you bargain with yourself and debate putting a paragraph of hashtags beneath your photo. But nothing screams “I have no self-worth” like a paragraph of hashtags.
The Promise Land
When you’re staring deep into the eyes of the likes that end in ‘teen,’ you’re officially allowed to cancel your plans of Walter Mitty’ing yourself and never talking to your friends again. There’s a comfort level with your followers when they see that your photo is well enough received to garner that many likes, and that’s when you’re in a “when it rains, it pours” situation like Raymond Calitri of Gone In 60 Seconds fame. You know that for the next hour, every single time you open Instagram, there’s most likely going to be a new like notification in the form of the beautiful red heart in the bottom quadrant of your shattered iPhone screen. The post-Eleven Likes stage of checking your likes is where you feel more invincible than Penélope Cruz doing coke in the passenger seat of George Jung’s convertible while ripping a heater.
Is This It?
When the waterfall ceases to exist and there’s a drought that takes over your notifications, there’s a six-minute period where people stop liking your photo. You wonder if Instagram is down or if all of your closest friends have a side text conversation about how much everyone hates you. How can you go from stacking likes over the past hour to not getting a single fucking like in the last six fucking minutes? You enter the dreadful stage where you realize that you can’t live forever in a world where your likes outnumber the minutes since your photo was posted. Nope, that life is reserved for Kardashians and Instagram models slanging those blue-light teeth whiteners – not serfs like yourself. That is, until someone comes through in the clutch and clots the wound by liking your now struggling photo which stops your thoughts of, “Do I need to text all my friends and ask them to like this so I don’t look like a fucking NARP?”
The Post-Sex Cigarette
What’s done is done, and you have to be content with the mess that you’ve left behind. Did you think it was going to be better than it actually was? Of course. You wanted more likes than you’ve gotten at this point but who wouldn’t want that? A cool comes over your entire body; a resolve. “This is it,” you think. You tap out and relax because you realize that being on the edge of your seat (or, you know, unmade bed) is doing you no good. You know that future likes will trickle in, but it’s not worth sitting there checking periodically in the middle of liking other people’s photos in hopes that they’ll give you a solidarity like in return. It’s at that point that you can lock your phone and go to sleep. Or at least press play on Netflix again.
It’s a new day. You wake up to birds chirping outside your window, or the token Apple alarm on your phone that no one’s motivated enough to change. After hitting snooze for the fourth time, you grab your phone and see the clock ticking down from nine minutes. There are two outcomes as your hand hovers above the Instagram icon: you will open the app and see a devastated wasteland where likes don’t exist anymore, or you’ll see a number that makes you beam with joy. With Instagram’s new algorithm, all you can do is pray that your photo is worth of the ‘Gram Gods putting you atop the feed for the followers that matter, and those followers will be impressed enough to hit you with that “I can’t sleep so I’m on Instagram” like, or the braggy “look how early I’m up” like.
‘Did They Mean To Like This?’ also known as ‘They Only Liked This In Hopes I’ll Follow Them’
Porn-y spam accounts and bots alike will like your photos retroactively in an effort to build their personal following. Their likes, while being a let down, don’t really matter to you at this point because fuck it, a likes a like and no one is going to comb through your likes and comment, “This loser’s likes are filled with fake accounts.” Whatever inflates your number works for you and makes you look cool in the eyes of anyone stalking your account – and hopefully those stalkers fumble their phone and mistakenly press the heart beneath your picture.
That first like, though. That one will live forever. .